CMO

How BlackBerry has taken its brand essence from mobiles to enterprise security

The iconic smartphone brand, once a shorthand for mobile messaging, has refashioned itself as enterprise security outfit and now looks to the opportunities in the new era of remote work

Over the last eight years, BlackBerry has gone through a huge transformation from a consumer brand selling hardware to an enterprise brand focused on software. But at the core lies a brand truth it's sticking to.

“We still have a focus on what we’re good at - productivity, security, mission critical systems - we’ve never moved away from that," BlackBerry chief marketing officer, Mark Wilson, tells CMO.

More recently, the brand has been building off the idea of ‘intelligent security, everywhere’, unveiling a new campaign aimed at securing all businesses across the globe, regardless of their location, workforce or user device. The company took the first step to launch this campaign via its virtual BlackBerry Security Summit 2020, an event that generated 1500 global attendees and leveraged the initial messaging and tactics they’re set to go-live with in the coming months.

“With a brand like BlackBerry, which really created the category of enterprise mobility, we’ve taken the essence of that and applied it to a new campaign,” Wilson says.

It’s a long way from the days when composing a simple email on a handheld device and having a mobile calendar made working lives easier. “The world is increasingly connected. There are billions of new types of endpoints, and that can be anything in an enterprise, from mobile phones to tablets, servers, equipment and automobiles. All these connected things are increasingly becoming vulnerable,” Wilson explains.

“We're also seeing growth in the amount of malware out in the market. Today, there's over a billion pieces of known malware in the wild. That increases by 100 million every year. And we're seeing a lot more of that now being created, not just by bad actors, but increasingly by state actors. So now we're seeing hundreds of countries having not only defensive cyber security tactics, but also offensive cyber security tactics."

When a brand is a shorthand for something

BlackBerry was once synonymous with mobile productivity. When a US president - Barack Obama - is known for their attachment to their BlackBerry you know you’ve reached an iconic cultural moment. Yet despite its almost cult status, BlackBerry was running Android software by 2015 and had stopped designing its own phones soon after this. The company has since moved away from hardware and devices to focus on software and services for enterprise security and productivity.

When it comes to redefining an iconic brand like BlackBerry, Wilson says it’s both a help and a hindrance to have a brand that’s shorthand for mobile productivity. The plus is that the brand is iconic.

“Everybody has an emotional connection to the brand and what it meant for them at some point in their lives,” he says. “For us, it's how we then take the goodness of that brand, but pivot it by saying, ‘Yeah, we don't make phones anymore. We haven't made phones in years. Instead, we're taking a lot of that that same goodness of what Blackberry is known for in terms that security or productivity and now applying it to all types of new classes’.”

As a result, while the name opens doors, re-education is needed to move and update people about what BlackBerry is now, Wilson says. And that’s a story involving cyber security and embedded systems in devices such as cars.

Seizing the opportunities in the new Covid normal

Helping drive this narrative is the reliance on connected workforces during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Wilson says the pandemic and economic shake-up has driven both security with remote work and productivity with reduced budgets and headcount to the top of the priority in most enterprises. And like it was in the early days of mobile adoption, BlackBerry sees itself positioned in the right market with a strong brand message backed by a strong legacy brand.

“We feel like we're in we're in exactly the right market. If you look at what are the top concerns organisations have today, it is about how do you enable people to be more productive. And that certainly includes security. We feel we're very well positioned, in terms of organisations of any size, to help drive more productivity, while being highly secure,” Wilson says.

More broadly, Wilson has seen how brands responded to the crisis when it first hit and how they continue to navigate the changing situation, and says it's unlikely to settle down anytime soon. “It was fascinating to watch brands, and how responsive they were to the new reality,” he says.

“Some brands very quickly embraced the reality. For other brands, it took a little while. The brand that quickly recognised the reality of the pandemic, and recognised working from home, did everything they could to help their customers get through,” he says.

BlackBerry took all of its existing campaigns and stopped everything. Instead, it focused more directly on its customers and what it could do for them, offering software for free and supporting organisations with working from home,” he says.

“Many marketers were effective at that. Seeing ads then that didn’t embrace the reality seemed a little tone deaf. But in the end, everyone came around to the new reality,” Wilson says.

“I think we’ll see the same thing when things start to come back to some kind of normalcy. You’ll see another shift in terms of how brands are serving their customers.”

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